What is International Studies?
Defining International Studies
International Studies at Leiden university is a rather young programme, using much of the regional, disciplinary and language expertise present in the Humanities Faculty of Leiden University. But what is it exactly that one studies at International Studies? Is it the world? That seems rather vague, and includes many things that we do not study at International Studies. Is it current issues then? Although that sound somewhat less vague, we are barely the only programme in which current issues play an important role; think of programmes like Politics sciences at the Social Sciences Faculty, or regional studies like Russian and Eurasian studies at the Humanities Faculty and many more.
The question as to what it is that one studies at International Studies may seem rather academic as it appears that students and lecturers know very well what they are doing. However, the answer to this question could have far-reaching consequences for the curriculum and for the expectations of the work of the students. For example, in which way does an International Studies thesis that addresses a political issue differ from a Political sciences thesis? But also, how do theses at International Studies differ from theses written in the context of a History programme, or a regional studies programme? And if there is no difference, why are we here? Answers to those questions touch the cornerstones of our curriculum, as the thesis is normally seen as the culmination point of the various learing streams throughout the programme.
Our profile: a first attempt
In an attempt to capture the essence of what International Studies student study, the Programme Board of International Studies wrote a profile, the short version of which you can find in the e-prospectus. The central part of that profile is:
The Bachelors of Arts in International Studies provides students with the tools to investigate globalisation, and its regional effects, from a humanities perspective. Students study these effects through the prism of four disciplinary perspectives: culture, history, politics and economics, coupled with in-depth knowledge of one of eight world regions.
The three key concepts are: globalization, regional expertise and multidisciplinarity. Below I will briefly discuss how the combination of these concepts makes International Studies a unique programme.
What makes International Studies unique?
At International Studies, students become experts in a world region, learning about the history, culture, economies and politics of that region and simultaneously learning a language spoken in that region. It is the emphasis on history and culture that sets the programme apart from non-humanites programmes, such as Political Sciences. Moreover, International Studies makes use of the enormous knowledge of languages that is present in the Humanities Faculty at Leiden University and allows its students to choose from 16 different languages.
However, our students do not just become an expert in a world region. If that were the case, we would be regional studies. However, we are International Studies. The main difference lies in the fact that at International Studies the global context in which the region functions is explicitly taken into account. This is the international, or global, component of the programme, connected to courses such as Cultural Interaction, International Economics (Global Political Economy) and International Relations.
Finally, the International Studies programme offers courses on history, culture, economics and politics. This automatically makes it also a multidisciplinary programme, as opposed to monodisciplinary programmes, like History or Political sciences. International Studies is not unique in offering such a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives; regional studies do this as well. However, this should not withhold us from discussing whether multidisciplinarity is a skill that comes automatically with the curriculum, or that it should be trained separately in courses in which various disciplinary approaches on a certain theme are taken. Should we explicitly teach that the combination of disciplines greater than the sum of its parts?
But still, what is International Studies?
And finally back to the original question: What is International Studies? While the definition discussed above, may solve the question partly, the question remains on a practical level: what kind of (multidisciplinary?) research do our lecturers do and how is that connected to their teaching? And added to that: What kind of subjects or themes are our students interested in, and in which way does the curriculum offer students the option of studying those subject?
And the answer is…This is International Studies
It makes sense that a relatively young field of studies as International Studies struggles with defining what it stand for. That is also one of the reasons for launching this website, This is International Studies. In the end, we think the best way of defining ourselves is by showing each other and everyone else what it is we do. The blog is open for blog posts by both academic staff who can showcase their research or comment on current issues, and by students who could, for example rework their assignments and papers into blog posts. Feel free to contribute!